In Sunday night’s Democratic presidential debate, frontrunner Joe Biden renewed his call for eliminating private money from elections and instead having federally-funded campaigns. Candidates from both sides of the aisle are increasingly interested in having the government fund their election efforts.
Here are five reasons why more government control is the wrong way to make campaigns more fair:
Even if incumbents and challengers are granted the same amount of money from the government, incumbents would still have a considerable built-in advantage. Incumbents have a natural edge over challengers because, generally speaking, they already enjoy far higher name recognition. They also have the ability to remind voters of the benefits or “favors” they have enacted while in office. They are able to tap into networks of special interests who are willing to help them in order to “grease the wheels” for lobbying. Limiting the money that candidates can raise would hamstring challengers who already face an uphill battle.
In order to qualify for government funding, candidates have to meet government-mandated (aka incumbent-decided) requirements. This system, by default, eliminates candidates and smaller start-up campaigns who might be off to a slow start but could gain traction later.
Imagine, for example, giving the tax dollars of Jewish Americans to a candidate with Neo-Nazi ties. Thomas Jefferson addressed the problem when he said, “To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical.”
To do so has been deemed a violation of the First Amendment by the Supreme Court in Buckley v. Valeo.
Mandating government-funded campaigns would cost billions of dollars, in a time when America is already deeply in debt.
The rationale for government-funded campaigns seems to be that it would even the playing field and limit corruption. But recent elections have proven that money can’t buy an election in the first place. We’ve also seen that limiting corporate and individual contributions is not the answer. More government control over individuals’ lives is rarely the right response.
A better way to increase fairness in campaigns is to empower citizens to make informed decisions. At Transparency Texas, our mission is to do just that — search here by donor, politician, or PAC to see where the political money is coming from and where it’s being spent. Join us, as we provide the answers you need about the money in Texas politics.
This is an editorial piece from Transparency Texas.